Low Blood Counts during Cancer Therapy
Red and white blood cells and platelets are produced by bone marrow, a spongy material contained in the bones.
Chemotherapy causes bone marrow to work less effectively, producing fewer blood cells. This is called myelosuppression or myelotoxicity.
Blood tests will be done regularly during treatment to monitor the health of your child’s bone marrow.
If your child’s blood counts take time to recover, the doctor may delay the next treatment. This can be worrying and frustrating, but it should not majorly disrupt the overall treatment plan.
Delaying treatment by a week or two is much safer than giving myelosuppressing drugs while your child’s bone marrow is already depressed.
Symptoms of Low Blood Counts
Blood counts are typically at their lowest 10 14 days after chemotherapy treatment. You may see a number of symptoms that should be reported to the doctor as soon as possible.
Low red cell count may cause your child to become anaemic, feel fatigued or short of breath. A transfusion may be needed to boost the number of circulating red cells. For more information on how to help your child cope with fatigue, click here.
Low platelets mean your child may bruise more easily. Gums bleed easily when brushing teeth, and some children have nosebleeds for no apparent reason. A transfusion may be needed to increase the number of circulating platelets.
Low white cell count increases risk of infections. Contact his doctor immediately if your child develops a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above, or any symptoms of infection, such as sore throat, rash or burning sensation when passing urine.
Some hospitals prescribe a maintenance antibiotic like Bactrim during chemotherapy. Ask the doctors if this will be the case for your child.
A child with an Absolute Neutophil Count of less than 1000 is described as neutropaenic. At this time, you need to take extra care to prevent infection.
Pneumonia and Chickenpox
Chickenpox and pneumonia plague children who have depressed bone marrow during chemotherapy. They can be potentially life threatening and require prompt treatment.